Contesting neoliberalism: mapping the terrain of social conflict

David J. Bailey*, Paul C. Lewis, Saori Shibata

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This article explores the terrain of social conflict as it developed across advanced capitalist democracies throughout the ‘age of austerity’ that followed the global economic crisis. It shows how a (broadly defined) working class mobilised in different ways in different capitalist contexts, contesting the institutional forms (and the crises that emerged from them) which constitute each particular model of capitalism. Considered this way, we are able to conceptualise and explain the forms of working-class mobilisation that have emerged in opposition to contemporary neoliberalism. In doing so, we go beyond a narrow focus on workplace-focused or trade-union-led forms of working-class mobilisation, highlighting the continuing contestation of neoliberal capitalism. Drawing on a protest event analysis of 1,167 protest events in five countries (Spain, Germany, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom), and developing a Régulation Theory approach to the study of protest/social movements, we provide an overview of the most visible patterns of social contestation in each national neoliberal capitalist context, tracing links to the institutional configurations that constitute those national models of capitalism. While there exists no direct (linear) process of causality between the model of neoliberal capitalism and the forms of mobilised dissent witnessed, nevertheless we are able to clearly trace the different pressures of capital accumulation that have given rise to the protest/social movements identified in each case, thereby allowing us to gain a better insight into both each particular model of capitalism and the forms of dissent that constitute it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-30
Number of pages30
JournalCapital and Class
Early online date27 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for the research assistance of Ran Yan, Milly Morris and Max Lempriere, and the funding provided by the University of Birmingham’s College of Social Science Quality Output Support Scheme and the Birmingham Business School research award scheme. Earlier versions of the paper have been presented at a number of different workshops and conferences. We are grateful for feedback in those forums, and for comments and helpful conversations with Ian Bruff, Kai Koddenbrock, Bernd Bonfert, Huw Macartney, Earl Gammon, Giulio Palermo, Sushil Oswal, Bob Brecher, Shai Kassirer, Deanna Dadusc, Zeina El Maasri, Andreas Bieler, Jon Mansell, Pierre Monforte, Athina Karatzogianni, Torsten Geelan, Christel Koop, Elio di Muccio, Greig Charnock, Gregor Gall, Andy Hodder, Owen Worth, and Sebastian Lechevalier. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers and for the editorial guidance of Angela Wigger.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • capitalism
  • neoliberalism
  • protest
  • resistance
  • social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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